Nate May’s composition thesis, State, is not your typical college project. Rather than stay within the safe walls of CCM Village, he is reaching outward to honor the unique experience of the underserved and often negatively stereotyped population of urban Appalachians in the Cincinnati area.
Despite being raised in Huntington, West Virginia, May’s artistic interest in Appalachia didn’t begin until he wrote the words and music for the musical monodrama (a one-person opera) Dust in the Bottomland. A close collaboration with singer Andrew Munn, the work highlighted issues of mountaintop removal, the prescription drug epidemic and the effect the place of one's upbringing has on his or her life.
May’s Appalachian journey continues with his current project. “When I was admitted to CCM, I began learning about the huge migration of Appalachians to Midwestern cities in the middle decades of the 20th century. In fact, some estimate that Cincinnati’s population is 40% of Appalachian descent. Yet there is a sad history of one-dimensional representation of Appalachians, which I challenge in both Dust in the Bottomland and in my new work.”
To combat those stereotypes and to prepare to write State, May spent last summer collecting oral histories from local urban Appalachians with support from the Appalachian Sound Fellowship from Berea College. “This piece is an adaptation of their own words, honoring both the particular and the universal in their experiences,” says May.
He is hard at work turning the stories into a 30-minute composition, which will be a collaboration between himself, singer Kate Wakefield (a local CCM-educated singer), MUSE (Cincinnati’s 60-voice women’s choir) and three percussionists. The performance will be in Lower Price Hill because of the neighborhood’s large population of urban Appalachians.
Also in the program is Price Hill’s much lauded community youth orchestra, MyCincinnati, which will premiere a different composition of May’s. The entire performance will celebrate the urban Appalachian experience, which has contributed greatly to the shaping of Cincinnati.
Two major Cincinnati grant making organizations have taken notice of May’s work and have awarded him project grant funds totaling $16,500 to offset some of the costs.
One of those groups, ArtsWave, based their grant on a new 10-year strategy, “Blueprint for Collective Action for the Arts,” which outlines strategies to attract talent, retain residents, promote inclusion, enliven neighborhoods and develop arts skills in all young students in the Cincinnati area. With the inclusion of MyCincinnati, May’s project checks every box and is a perfect example of Artswave’s mission at work.
The other group, People’s Liberty, is a philanthropic lab that seeks to “propel thought-provoking creative content, equip civic problem-solvers and fund urban innovators,” and is not limited to arts projects, which is what makes May’s award particularly impressive. “The jurors were interested in State’s ability to highlight local Cincinnati talent while generating awareness of and engaging the Appalachian roots within the city,” says May.
State will be presented alongside several other new works all with the goal of highlighting the unique experience of those in the Appalachian community. The event is open to the public and May hopes that any and all will come out to celebrate the diverse stories of fellow area residents.
Time TBA, April 16 and 17, 2016
The Sanctuary, Lower Price Hill
- Story by Ryan Strand